Turmeric: Spice Up Your Life For Gut Health
Turmeric, the yellowish spice that gives curry that peppery, bitter bite, is perhaps the most well-known anti-inflammatory natural ingredient. Bet you didn’t know turmeric is also great for gut health! Here’s why…
Turmeric isn’t just an anti-inflammatory powerhouse that can make anything taste pungent and earthy, even a Miracle Noodle dish like this Lectin-Free Asian Bowl with shrimp (thanks, Claudia @CreativeInMyKitchen).
Even though turmeric is one of the most well-researched natural ingredients, thanks to its main active compound, curcumin, many people don’t know about it’s benefits on gut health. So let’s see what the research says about how turmeric/curcumin supports the gut microbiome.
Turmeric Acts Like A Probiotic
Let’s get something straight here. Sprinkling a tiny bit of turmeric spice on your food isn’t going to magically make your gut microbiome healthier overnight. In fact, even if you add turmeric spice to your food every day, it may not be as effective as taking a turmeric/curcumin supplement. But, hey, it can’t hurt.
According to a study in Nutrients, a curcumin supplement seemed to have the same effects as taking a probiotic supplement. The reason why is because of how the active compound in turmeric affects the gut microbiota, that invisible universe within (mostly) our large intestine that contains trillions of bacteria.
Curcumin was shown to favor the growth of friendly bacteria. Not only did it help the good bacteria survive in the gut, the compound helped increase the diversity of the friendly gut bacteria.
In addition, curcumin was shown to counteract strains of unfriendly bacteria such as ruminococcus, which is associated with diabetes and obesity. In one study, curcumin was shown to decrease 36 potentially harmful bacterial strains!
But let’s get back to the good guys…
Curcumin, the Nutrients study showed, increased the friendly bacteria that produce the short-chain fatty acid, “butyrate.”
Why is this important?
Because butyrate is a postbiotic, which is just as important for gut health and overall wellness as probiotics. Postbiotics are basically the metabolic leftovers after probiotics eat (ferment) fibers and sugars in the gut.
You might say that curcumin is so awesome that it acts as a prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic in one! It has a prebiotic effect because it nourishes (feeds, fertilizes) the beneficial bacteria you already have in your gut. And by doing so, it helps colonize the gut with more diverse healthy bacteria (probiotic effect).
Curcumin for Leaky Gut Support
You can’t have a healthy gut if you have a leaky gut. In case you’re not familiar with leaky gut, it’s when bacteria, viruses, toxins and undigested food particles escape from the digestive and immune system barrier into the blood circulation. When these “nasties” are free to swim about the bloodstream, the body triggers a cascade of inflammatory reactions, which can cause all sorts of health concerns, autoimmune disease included.
The good news about turmeric is that it’s been shown to support the barrier that surrounds the lining of the small intestine. In fact, in one study (referenced by the study in Nutrients), rats that were treated with curcumin every day for 16 weeks were shown to have tighter junctions in their intestinal wall. You can think of tight junctions as spaces between fence posts. If a fence post has gaps that are too wide, your dog can escape your yard or scary animals can crawl in.
By tightening the junctions between the cells of the intestinal lining, curcumin may help unwanted things like bacteria from escaping the digestive system.
Another study on rats showed that curcumin also helped prevent a toxic bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall, which causes irritation and can manifest as abdominal pain or bloating.
Turmeric For Gut Inflammation
Unlike the obvious signs of skin inflammation (acne, psoriasis, eczema, etc.), you can’t always see signs of gut inflammation. But you can certainly feel it. Whether it’s gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, or constipation, gut inflammation and its root causes are difficult to pinpoint and resolve. But studies show that turmeric/curcumin may help.
Researchers think that by serving as fuel for friendly gut bacteria and thereby reducing the number of harmful bacterial strains, turmeric/curcumin can reduce inflammation and irritation in the gut lining.
Dozens of studies have shown how this spice’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help support cognitive health, the immune system, joint health and so much more. You can expect to see more research that demonstrates how this ancient spice from the Indian subcontinent supports gut health.
And by supporting gut health, turmeric may support overall wellness.